PARKLAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Just hours after Florida Governor Rick Scott stood shoulder-to-shoulder with families of those killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and showcased the bipartisan school safety and gun control bill he and the legislature battled to put together – the National Rifle Association fired its first shot in its new legal battle over the law.
Missing from the new lawsuit filed by the NRA as a plaintiff? The governor himself.
Included in the lawsuit as those most discriminated by the new age restrictions on gun sales are women. In particular, women who are supposedly NRA members and are 18 to 21 years of age.
That suit, filed against Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Commissioner Rick Swearinger, wants a judge to block the part of the law that raised the legal purchase age from 18 to 21.
According to the lawsuit, Bondi is sued in her official role as the state’s chief prosecutor when it comes to enforcement of the new law making it a third-degree felony for any licensed gun seller or manufacturer to facilitate the sale of a firearm to someone under the age of 21. Swearinger, as head of the FDLE, oversees the enforcement of that law, the NRA claims.
The lawsuit goes on to say the new age restriction violates the second amendment right to bear arms and the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause, discriminating against a specific group: 18 to 21-year-old people who are otherwise law-abiding citizens.
One takeaway is the focus on women in this age group.
The NRA cites the 2015 FBI Crime in the United States report, specifically Table 40, claiming that only 1.8 percent of violent crimes are committed by women ages 18 to 21. The NRA’s interpretation of those numbers will be up for debate in federal court, as the report shows violent crime among women in that age group ranged from 2.8 percent to 3.7 percent.
Regardless of their position on women as those that will be most affected by the new laws, it is still a narrow approach to a more general issue they have with the law – that it is an attack on the second amendment.
A Federal District Court Judge will expect responses from the attorney general’s office, FDLE and possibly the governor’s office as the case moves forward.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NEW LAW: ARMING TEACHERS
On Friday, Gov. Scott once again expressed his opposition to arming school personnel in favor of having armed law enforcement protecting students on campus.
The evolution of arming teachers in the classroom to the Guardian Program that was part of the new law is complex.
Under the new law, several things would have to happen.
Legal Lesson: Teachers and officials will NOT be forced to arm themselves in schools. Here’s why:
The law requires at least one school resource officer be on campus in every school in Florida. As part of that plan, the original plan of arming school officials was delegated to the sheriffs of all 67 counties in the state, which overlap with each school district. In another part of the law that expands the powers of the sheriff in each county, they could participate in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program that would allow for certain school employees to be armed after extensive training.
The sheriff would also decide who would receive that status only if the school district wants to participate.
The Guardian Program was also written into law as a backup to satisfy the requirement of having an armed school resource officer provided by local law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, teachers whose primary teaching functions exist only in the classroom would not be able to volunteer for the program.
Junior ROTC teachers are the exception based on their specific training.
In the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough County School Board has already voted against being part of the Guardian Program. Polk County Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd has also publicly stated her district will not participate.
If a district opts into the program, here is the training a volunteer school employee would have to go through to carry a firearm on campus before they would be considered by their local sheriff to be appointed as a guardian, according to the new statutes:
- Have or obtain a Concealed Carry License.
- Undergo 132 hours of firearm training under the state’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission’s (CJSTC) law enforcement training model.
- 85 percent pass rate on firearms proficiency training.
- Undergo a psychological evaluation by a licensed psychologist and designated by FDLE. Results would then be submitted to the local sheriff’s office for evaluation.
- 12 hours of certified diversity training.
- Pass a drug test.
- Continuing firearms training every year.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NEW LAW: RISK PROTECTION ORDERS
Another bold step forward in the new law is dealing with people who may pose a threat to themselves or others beyond the 72-hour Baker Act, especially when access to firearms becomes a factor.
Under the new “Risk Protection Order” statute, law enforcement – and families of those who may be suicidal, mentally ill or even be a real danger to the community – can ask a court to have that person referred for mental health counseling and have them surrender all firearms that they possess.
These orders can also block someone in this situation from purchasing a firearm while their case is under review.
Once law enforcement learns of the individual threat or circumstance, they can ask a court for a Risk Protection Order with the following conditions (Florida Statute 790.401):
- The person poses a significant danger of harming themselves or another by possessing a firearm or ability to purchase a firearm
- Notify family members that they are seeking the order and provide referrals to mental health or appropriate counseling
- Have the person voluntarily surrender any firearms in their possession, with the ability to get them back after treatment if a court approves and proof is shown that they have completed the treatment
- Identify whether there is an existing reason that person should not lawfully possess a firearm (prior felony conviction, misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, adjudicated mentally incompetent or any other factor already part of the existing statute)
- A hearing will be held within 14 days of law enforcement serving notice
- Witnesses will be able to testify
- Court will consider concerns raised by law enforcement, current threats, mental health issues, diagnosis of mental illness and other factors to determine appropriate placement and treatment
- Court will use “clear and convincing evidence standard” before issuing the order
- In specific cases, law enforcement will be able to present their case to a judge only (ex parte order) to obtain a temporary risk protection order before the hearing if the danger is imminent
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE NEW LAW: MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING FOR TEENS
As the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety law has tried to fix every problem from gun control to protecting schools and dealing with the delicate issue of what to do with those who might be the next threat to school safety, there is also a significant push to help students and parents deal with mental health issues earlier than most even want to talk about.
Also inside this sweeping new law, a massive expansion of mental health services for students – beginning at 11 years old and lasting in some adults until they turn 21. Under certain criteria, children under age 11 facing these same issues would also be eligible for counseling.
So, what will school and mental health counselors be looking for under the new law?
The primary focus of SB-7026 will be keeping at-risk children at home with expanded counseling resources provided with state funding through local schools.
Some of the factors schools and counselors will be looking for include the following:
- Repeated failures at less intensive care or counseling
- Two or more hospital stays related to behavior issues
- Contacts with Department of Juvenile Justice
- Multiple contacts with law enforcement
- Looking at declining academic performance
Thirty counties will be part of this new counseling program with the option to expand. Right now, it includes school districts in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, DeSoto, Manatee, Highlands and Hardee counties in the Tampa Bay area.
Regardless of how anyone feels about any of these issues, here is one part that needs to be recognized in this $400 million process: Remembering those who were lost on Feb.14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – a school named after a journalist and activist herself.
Those who survived the shooting are trying to move on with a new movement themselves called #NeverAgain.
There is also a separate, physical recovery that will happen in Parkland that is part of this new law.
Let’s start with the In-Memoriam part.
One million dollars has been set aside in the new law to build a memorial honoring the 14 students and 3 faculty members that lost their lives on that tragic day.
For the thousands of current, past and future students of Stoneman Douglas who don’t want a constant reminder of the carnage that visited their home-away-from-home on Valentine’s Day – $25 million will be spent to tear down the classroom building where the shootings happened and rebuild it into a separate educational memorial to everyone there.
Hopefully, it will be up to those brave students, survivors and the future generation of the City of Parkland to redefine what Stoneman Douglas will look like as they heal, remember and march on.
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